Fanfictions – Delusions or Expressions of Admiration?

Fanfiction by nature has no true roots, therefore it makes the evolution and history hard to track. Yet one of its earliest known uses in popular culture as a term is in 1939 in contrast to pro fiction in the sci-fi community to differentiate from the amateur science fiction. We still see the stigma between the two persisting today, but is it warranted? Many of the arguments against fan fiction are the way that it can twist the perception of a character, or even in some cases inserts a real person. Since fan fiction made the leap from strictly fictional characters into being written about the actors or otherwise that are associated with the work that the fiction is based on.

Each attracts different fandoms and writers

Fanfiction Amateur’s Hobby or “Real Art”

A viewpoint that does not stand up to questioning is whether or not fan fiction is a valid art form: by most reasonable standards it is. Yet, a strong stigma still surrounds those that spend their time writing and playing in worlds already created instead of writing their own. For comparison, it contrasts very strongly with the traditionally published vs. self-published arguments. We live in an age where art in many mediums is more accessible than it has ever been, and fan fiction is just a slightly strange, occasionally creepy off shoot of that. While it is not entirely harmless, in many ways it serves as a refuge and community to those who may stand isolated in their interests geographically.

An Archive to Gather the Fandom Masses

One place that many of those works are gathered, in a more formal way is the Archive of Our Own, or AO3 as it is most often referred to. This serves as much of a catch-all for a lot of the fanfiction written since 2009, the year that the archive was founded.

In many ways, it represents the best and worst facets of the internet, and provides an interesting cross section of fandom culture as a whole. It concentrates people from all walks of life over something that they have in common. This concentration can be positive, or it can bring out the extremes of humanity, and by nature can be very addictive and isolating by proxy. These types of associations are common with fandom culture, but are far from universal. Fanfiction also has a reputation for being poorly written and extremely amateurish. While it is easy to find these types of pieces if you go looking for them more often one will come across pieces that stand up next to many bestsellers that fill the shelves today, and some even better written.

The way that fan fiction is distributed helps to weed out those pieces that are poorly written and full of tropes. Those pieces may be distributed on a limited basis, but those that truly gain “fandom fame” are those that take their “craft” very seriously and are vastly talented. Fanfiction does not stand the same challenges the way that most other traditionally published books or other media streams face. The market is the consumer, and the relationship is not dictated by a higher power or middle man trying to interpret market trends.

This also can be the downfall of fanfic writers since the life cycle of what is considered popular can turn much faster. With that respect given, the hours of work that may go into writing a fic still pales in comparison to the hundreds or even thousands of hours put in by many people that traditionally publish a book. While many of the books traditionally published are of a certain caliber, there are examples such as things like the Fifty Shades of Gray series that manage to make the jump from fanfiction to traditionally published sensation.

When the series first gained ground, much of the criticism came from the seemingly almost plagiarized parallels between the structure between E.L. James’s writing and Stephanie Myer’s of Twilight. The culturally bad taste that this left behind for many still pervades and is often the only association that many have for fanfiction. But this should not serve as the standard for a cultural phenomenon that is as vast and wide as the media it imitates.

One example of a piece that is a shining example of what fanfiction can be is Something They Can Never Take Away by a_mind_at_work on Archive of Our Own. It places the historical players in Hamilton in a modern high school setting, including George Washington serving as a foster father to Alexander Hamilton. The nuance that is created through the so far over fifty chapters in this series easily serves a way to see what fanfiction can be and often is.

Fanfiction’s Dark Depths

Fanfiction that deals with historical characters or fictional characters is highly popular, and overall not terribly controversial, but as previously mentioned RPF or real people fic has a much more possibly edgy spin. The argument against it for many is the way it reduces real people to caricatures, and stereotypes of fans. This problem can spill over into real life quite easily, and these behaviors drive many away from fandoms. The things that are said in fics or on places like tumblr can be repeated in person or tweeted at in a much more visible arena to the person the fic may be about. In these situations, fanfiction can cross the line into dehumanizing, but mostly when taken too far. Fandoms can be spaces where counter-cultural beliefs are held, and when this deals strictly with long dead historical, or fictional characters this is overall harmless. The problem comes in when fandoms latch onto dangerous stereotypes about real people that are broadcast to them in public and often on their social media.

This type of situation churns out a dangerous mix of idolization and fans believing they have ownership over real people’s lives. Real-people fiction is only harmless until it begins to interfere with the real lives of the people that it’s being written about. A certain amount of lost privacy is assumed, but the stereotypes that come across in these RPF can be deeply damaging to the person being written about, and is the reason many popular actors and actresses in fandom heavy creations stay away from social media and avoid fan interactions.

While fanfiction counterculture itself can be off-putting, overall it’s very passionate people who love creating new adventures for their favorite characters. While no one person can ever truly understand the scope of what fanfiction is, considering all the fan bases that create it, there’s usually always something for everyone. There have even been English teachers that utilize fan fiction as a way to allow students to relate to otherwise sometimes very modernly aloof personalities. It also can serve as a go between for classic required reading, and the students who often despise it.

If we front to say that we live in a world that allows art to be elevated in new ways through the internet and the communities that they create, then fanfiction needs a fair and unbiased second look.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Stephanie M.

    Nice article. I don’t write much fan fiction, simply because of the dark side of fandoms you mention. However, I think the medium is unique and has a great place in the world of creative writing. It shows not only a fan’s admiration for the work, but his or her level of creativity. Say what you want about writing fanfiction vs. writing your own, but it takes a certain talent level to create new stories and arcs for characters who already exist.

  2. ambience

    Attempting to emulate the voice of a past author is nothing new.

    If it’s done well it can exist, but there’s always the belief it won’t be as good as the original voice. I think that’s quite valid. A prose style (for what we’re talking about here is prose, mostly) is difficult to precisely emulate while still writing an original plot.

    The exception comes with myth and folklore, where arguably all interpretations of tales are derivations and reworkings of an idea. However, whereas writing a new book with Sherlock Holmes, or James Bond, or James T Kirk as the protagonist means you are writing within a very prescribed and well-defined construct, the strictures of making a new Robin Hood tale or adventure of the Knights of the Round Table are far less defined – as long as Robin Hood is largely stealing from the rich, giving to the poor and highlighting foolishness and corruption, you can give it whatever spin you like (no-good friars, corrupt taxmen, whatever). As long as an Arthurian tale has the same themes as those that exist, then it’s quite likely it won’t stand out of what is essentially a collaboratively-defined corpus. Indeed, Malory is quite different to Victorian Arthuriana, yet both are equally valid parts of the corpus.

  3. Both fanfiction and fan art can be breath-taking. My son is an avid gamer, for example, and some of the artwork for games like “Guild Wars 2” is simply breath-taking. I’d wager that in terms of pure quality, the fans are often better than the artists themselves.

  4. When I was young, I had a ‘paint by numbers’ kit. You put a dab of No 31 here, here, and here, then No 32 there, there and there, and a picture began to emerge.

    Fanfics are rather like that. They take the characters with all their cliches and run them through a different plot. The plot probably won’t be original; the characters certainly aren’t.

    Doesn’t mean to say I don’t like fanfiction, though.

  5. Corbett

    Excellent article! Fanfiction has a long history.

  6. A G Macdonald

    While fan-fiction is harmless, and you’re not hurting anybody by writing it in the comfort of your own home, I personally see it as a lesser form of writing. A fantasy writer, for example, might spend years crafting a world, down to the slightest detail; then someone who writes fan fiction swoops in and uses all of that hard work to make their own story. Writers should be inspired by another’s work; they shouldn’t want to mimic it.

  7. I’m an amateur writer, and I assure you – I dream of the day that somebody writes fanfic for something I’ve written. I will be utterly honoured. If author that is irritated by the idea that their fans are so in love with the worlds that they have created that they want to play with them beyond the limits of the books, that is an author who evidently dislikes their own fan base for having the sheer gall to be fans.

    Remember Anne Rice? She hated fanfic so much that she threatened legal action to stop it. Accordingly, she annoyed her own best fans so much that they stopped liking her. Result; where is she today? Nobody cared about her most recent work, because she’d alienated and scared off her own fan base.

  8. I wouldn’t condemn fan fiction in totality, but a lot of it isn’t very good. This makes it hard to explore and hard to love. There is only so much tosh you can go through before you give up – even if it does cover characters you like.

    With “published” books, again many of which are still rubbish, at least there has been some form of screening process to increase the liklihood of something being readable…

  9. Mozelle

    For the authors who mention Fan fiction is all about money and feeding on the reputations of other authors- they are flogging live horses for their own financial gain.

  10. I’m a small fish in the sf genre pond, but I was part of a serious fanfiction project.

  11. It was how I started to write back when I was… 16, I think. For years now I’ve been writing original stuff, but I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t started with the much easier process of fanfic, I might not be writing at all today.

    • A lot of people use fanfic as a springboard to a professional career. Many of them hone their craft through writing it. For me it’s not any different than what I did when I was finding my own style of drawing and painting. I copied the Masters, until eventually my own style emerged, as I began to reach some understanding of what I liked and disliked, what was good and bad.

      I don’t see fanfcition as any different.

      And yes, for some it’s simply a pleasant hobby.

  12. The word fanfiction makes me shudder…

  13. I had a bit of a shock last year when I realised that I’d been writing fanfiction for ten years of my life.

    Simply put, it’s my hobby, my relaxation, a brilliant way of making friends (some of whom are lifelong) and much more. It does deserve more credit. Yes, there is terrible stuff out there… and you can bet your life that the people who write what you think is terrible find something else just as terrible, or worse. Everyone has expectations 😉

    Fan art also deserves a mention because some of it is absolutely stunning and brings to life characters far more successfully than film adaptations do, in my experience.

    Whether we go on to be professional writers or artists really has nothing to do with it –this is our hobby, we love it. I’m really pleased to see this article today!

  14. If the losers who write vampire/fantasy fan fiction showed the same zeal for activities that contribute tax revenue then this country would be a much better place.

  15. Jc Gracia

    It’s 99% cringesome rubbish.

    The Internet is wonderful in that it can provide support from like-minded people for folks who have difficulties or problems. The flipside is that it also provides that to people with embarrassing and debilitating habits and hobbies who in the past would have given up much more quickly. They shower each other with undue compliments and reassurance in order to get some in return and get a ridiculously inflated idea of the worth of what they produce.

    I’m still giggling at the memory of a girl yelling at me some years back that many “in the community” had told her that the Harry Potter novel she was working on was as good as “the canon”.

    Writing fanfic is like opening a roadkill restaurant.

  16. Emil Bethel

    Whilst there’s probably a lot of great fan-fiction out there, it can be really difficuly to get through some of the bad stuff. A friend of mine once showed me some ‘erotic’ fan fiction he’d found about Buffy The Vampire Slayer that was unbelievably terrible. Like, badly-translated-early-90s-Japanese-RPG terrible. Although it did include the phrase ‘ministrations in her love box’ that has stayed with me to this day.

  17. I’m hard pushed to give anything that goes by the name of “fanfic” or claims to be “remixing stories” any time of day. Harrumph.

  18. There’s really nothing new under the sun to write about: boy/girl meets girl/boy, boy/girl loses girl/boy, boy/girl finds & eats a different girl/boy in a crazed zombie/vampire attack while searching for the key to the code which will unlock the truth to life, the universe & who actually wrote the plays of Shakespeare.

  19. While I personally don’t read fanfiction or write any, I really can’t put anyone down for doing so because a) it’s a damn sight better hobby than, say setting things on fire, and b) it’s less competition for those who are seriously trying to get published. Heaven knows it’s hard enough…

  20. Funnily enough I recently came across some pieces of fan fiction that made me laugh more than just about anything else in the past year.

  21. I am utterly unashamed to now say that getting a review alert from from regular readers did wonders for my confidence as a young and nervous writer when I was a teenager!

  22. I used to write fanfic. I was terrible, but I loved it. and made kind friends through it who helped to make my bad writing better. To be fair to myself though, I was nowhere near the worst – having basic grammar/spelling and a working knowledge of the human body (v.useful when writing “panting fantasies” 😉 ).

  23. Meta Blakely

    Gaming is definitely one of the media where the fanfiction can often feature storytelling superior to the original.

  24. Before we all become lawyers after all and before the gummit and assorted complexed tidying up the fall, sue at the drop of a jesuitical hat,when there was creativity on the world, fan fictions were cone the stuff of true literature. But not now if you dint as they say Hold the rights, or rites as the care may me. There was a cycle epic written a millennium before Homer who may have been on exposure making sure only the Greek side was told well, or at all. That then produced Virgil who wished if he had to connect the romans to anyone, dreading the homer he was drilled in as a pre law student, sure it was to the Aeneas side of that fight and strangeness not the greeks who like acting like the father or the romans in all things. Dante rewrote Virgil and his love of him against the pasteups of catholicism, as much as the darkness of that Age, and i do love when good liberals do use dark as their best pejorative, but then what dos one expect from the folks who brought you the crime bill and too, of all places duke university showiness of a real monitored like devotion to the soup of the day concerns. Juts don’t be a black whore, aren’t you all…?, aclu ignored whore who desired it and lies about out good lunkhead athletes, bit evebfootball, or a Dukkkeeey babayyyyy, as good as soldiers here in new Spartarata. And, and after all that rape house was the first thing they damaged and did get rid of. So, who owns anything,…? epically in classics, as before watchman showed us, it sometimes takes a thousand hacks to make one Alan More, and 17 times as many pages to tell a prequel than an epic. WHO SAYS virgil COULDN’T USE AENEAS, AND DANTE HIM…? Disney Lawyers…? tell it to Collodi whose work being written in 1890 was still nuder copyright, as McKee mouse’s should be out by now. As am writing a satire of harry potter, done in the way of the brilliant maverick episode just re seen as sign from the italic hods, Gun shy, as SATIRE is a art form indigenous me as jazz is to a black American and has similar traits. Who is this hag to think she wons anything here or is above reproach, again we are all outraged lawyers now…who is she to dare be upset by anyone at some game site to any page leaveing a trail of hard dago bread and liver bits for that Hyppogriff, coaxed by Ludvico like a giant stray cat when such animals and magpies were seen as apostasy in dreary old merryless england, TO BE BACK IN AROSTO’S BESTIARY, AS HE AFTER ALL he finished a book by a man he admired named Maria Boiardo. So, to warm the hearts of those white chicks who use dark as a pejorative, as an Italian I am , even as an artist, am a born Fence.

  25. Great article! I don’t have any experience with real-people-fiction but understand how it has the potential to cause harm if it interferes with reality. A concern with those critical of real-people-fiction is to define the point at which you can draw the line. There are largely real-life scenarios that form the basis for all fiction, fanfic or otherwise.
    I really enjoyed how you unpacked both sides of argument. I think facfic is an important opportunity to encourage people in writing within a world or in scenarios that they are familiar with, and be a great opportunity to improve one’s writing. Really good read and has inspired a lot of thoughts!

  26. Fanfiction is a great way for aspiring authors to try their hand at writing, even the much maligned world of RPS can be full of entertaining and funny stories. I think it only becomes an issue if writers try to make financial capital out of it, because you are, at the end of the day, using someone elses work (or life) as a basis for your stories.

  27. Nice article. I’ve recently discovered fan fiction (thanks to my niece) and fan art. Some is horrible and some is sublime and so well written that I know those writers should be published. It’s a good place for a beginning writer to practice and get feedback. Some critiques can be harsh and I try to be encouraging for the most part. As an older reader, I’m less tolerant of hideous grammar and spelling. But they are learning. I will give a writer a few chapters before I drop them if they are poorly written, even if the premise is good. It’s just hard to follow a poorly written fic. Some writers don’t care and just pump it out, ignoring honest and helpful critiques. I usually stick to anime/manga/fantasy fanfics. I love to see the stories that they come up with. Yes, many are rehashed and trite but when you come upon that jewel with a wicked sense of humor and great timing, it’s a winner.

  28. L.J.

    “the best and worst facets of the internet” – this nails it.

  29. I agree with your points. I find fanfiction can range from terrible, where the the writer was either drunk or satisfying their creepy ship, to quality literature, where the author puts in a lot of effort. The latter is a rare gem, but I’ve come across a few.
    When you think about it, many stories are fanfiction, partly because nothing is original anymore, but also because writers see potential when the story is in a different light. You could argue Gail Carson Levine is a fanfic writer because she does fairy tale twists. Since you mentioned historical fiction, Shakespeare is technically a fanfic writer for writing plays on Antony and Cleopatra, and Julius Ceaser. Let’s just hope publishers don’t encourage another “Fifty Shades of Crap.”

  30. Sarai Mannolini-Winwood

    Fanfiction is an interesting form of literature as it opens a number of concerning aspects. For instance, how far beyond the original work can a piece become before it is considered “unique”? One of the greatest criticisms leveled at much of fantasy literature is the idea that it is referential, meaning it continuously draws on ideas and tropes that have been developed by other writers. Yet, this really is a claim that can be made of all literature that uses any of the monomyths, or draws on classical forms of genre. When a new version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is constructed, is this not fanfiction? How can we separate and disparage one writer over another for continuing to participate in what is largely an industry of shared knowledge? I find this an interesting topic, thank you for sharing.

  31. Ack…great topic. Namely because I’ve been seeing this a lot lately: fanfiction! It’s literally everywhere! And, I must admit, whenever i see it, i go “blah!”. I don’t know if that’s fair of me, since i’m sure there are some fanfics that are very well written, but, from what i’ve seen, most of it is crap…both in style and content!

  32. An important phase for writing is peer review, and this is were fanfiction thrives. (At least on Tumblr, where I had my only encounter with fanfics.) There are a lot of praise in the comments, but critiques on techniques as well. Fanfiction also takes advantage of the internet. It’s rare to have someone in your life who can read your work and give you reasonable feedback.

    I think Fanfic is harmless when people go above and beyond what the author created. It promotes creativity and whether the person is an aspiring writing or not, it is very good practice. Actually sitting down to write is difficult for most writers, so to have people be so enthusiastic is inspiring.
    I agree and would say the downfall is when people can’t differentiate characters and real people. It can spread false information about real people and the person can be creating a false idol.

  33. So long as the writer isn’t trying to profit from the work, it’s an amazing way for young people to develop a love of writing. I used to write fanfiction and the constant feedback is what helped me develop my style of writing today. It’s also a great way for people to gain confidence in regards to their writing, as nothing was more encouraging than a review on my latest chapter. Personally, I think without it I would have given up writing a long time ago if I felt like I wasn’t getting that approval at such a young age.

  34. I enjoy reading fan fiction about my favorite tv show characters, just as I enjoy reading a good novel. I have written a few fics of my own, and it has been a crucial tool in making me a better writer. I avoid the fic about real people because to me, that is endlessly creepy.

  35. Kidcanuck

    I agree with Jessicalea’s comment above. I think fan-fiction is an amazing starting off point for writers to develop a love of writing and to find their own style. My only fear (beside the copious cringe-worthy stories) is that fanfic encourages new writers to be shallow in their creation of characters. They don’t need to flesh out the characters in a story because they are able to rely on a fandom’s understanding of those characters. (for example: you don’t need to describe Dean from Supernatural because people who watch Supernatural know who he is, what he’s done etc.)

    The author can rely on the assumption of the reader. And that is a bad habit for a writer to get into.

  36. This is such a complicated issue. I still don’t know which I believe. Fanfiction is some of the most beloved writings out there, but they can never be seriously published or compensated for their work. It’s a gray area for sure.

  37. I do believe Fan Fiction gets a bad rep, and I agree that RPF can have bad consequences based on how the writer(s) continue to create this false idea of a real person that may or may not be true.

    I’m glad you distinguished fan fiction writing based on fictional characters (Which I feel is most popular, most accepted), and fan fiction based on real people (usually celebrities). I actually write RPF fan fiction based on artists/musicians that I really like. My writing is very private to me and very sacred. I only want to share it with those that are also in the fandom, because they are the ones that only know about certain sentiments we have for a celebrity. It is like a family — writing within a fandom. But I also do acknowledge that “fandom culture” can be very dangerous for the fans and for the real person. For example, I try to read as many fanfic stories about this band I like in order to get inspiration for writing and enjoy a good storyline every now and then. I noticed that alot of writers portray one member of this beloved band as a playboy & I see this false identity being carried over in social media. This member has been threatened on multiple accounts and bad-mouthed by crazy fans who think they know him better than himself. My biggest goal as a writer going forward is variety. I think that’s what we need. So as I see fanfics portraying this member as only one identity, I want to challenge myself — and others — to think of other identities and personality types that this character can become. More variety in characters and in storylines can make fanfics even more enjoyable, and prevent them from falling into stereotypes.

  38. I think that fanfiction is a brilliant spring board for aspiring authors to be able to test the boundaries of their abilities in a safe space with a willing audience who is already familiar with the characters.

    They don’t need to sell their work to have it noticed or build a following or work as hard to receive feedback when there’s a platform built for it.

    I think fanfiction is essentially harmless as long as people are being respectful if the people they are portraying are real human beings.

  39. Fanfiction writers are sometimes given a bad reputation, and it is mostly because of fanfics like the infamous “My Immortal”, that is known for it’s incredibly inaccurate portrayals of Harry Potter characters and it’s terrible grammar, that they are given this. When delving deeper into the world of fanfiction, there are some truly amazing, original pieces. A lot of fanfic writers use the characters and world but make their own stories with them, alike to someone using puppets and a cardboard background. It is unfair to judge their writing on the themes or genres or if they’re writing something using someone else’s characters and worlds. As long as they don’t try to sell them as their own, what’s the harm? These writers often use their fanfiction as practise pieces or as a way of expressing what they wanted to happen or even just to share their love of the characters and world. I, myself, wrote fanfiction before I moved onto my own original pieces, and I did it more as a way to insert myself into a world I loved more than anything than to steal or change the story. And people of the same fandoms enjoy reading fanfiction about what they like as well. One of my closest friends spends her time reading fanfiction instead of an actual book.

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